50 years ago, oxygen was touted as a potential memory loss treatment

Excerpt from the March 18, 1972 issue of Science News

a photo of a person in a hyperbaric chamber

In 1972, research hinted that hyperbaric oxygen treatment (shown) might boost memory. Fifty years later, scientists still don’t have a definitive answer.

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Retaining older people’s memoryScience News, March 18, 1972

March 18, 1972 issue of Science News

In spite of the age-old yearning for the Fountain of Youth, there is a marked lack of research toward retaining vitality in later years. Nonetheless … [researchers] have found they can reverse transient memory loss — or senility — in older patients by giving them periodic oxygen treatments in a hyperbaric chamber.


Studies still only hint that exposing patients to 100 percent oxygen at high pressures might give cognitive abilities a boost (SN: 10/12/85, p. 236). For instance, people with persistent symptoms after mild head trauma who underwent hyperbaric oxygen treatment outperformed untreated individuals on memory tests at least two months after the treatments, researchers reported in 2020. Exposure to high amounts of oxygen also has been shown to improve short-term memory in people who have had strokes and those with Alzheimer’s disease. The treatments seem to work by dampening inflammation in the brain. The jury is still out on whether the method has a lasting effect on memory.

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